Janet's Conner

This Blog tell the Truth and will never not tell the Truth. Impeach Bush

Saturday, May 27, 2006


Congress Rebukes Secretary Nicholson Who Promises 'Corrective Action'

Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson told Congress today he is "mad as hell" about the theft of personal data on more than 26 million veterans and about his department's failure to notify him about it promptly, and he promised to take strong "corrective action" following an investigation.

Appearing successfully before the House Veteran's Affairs Committee and a joint hearing of the Senate veterans and homeland security committees, Nicholson said he accepts responsibility for the loss of veterans' information resulting from a burglary at a VA employee's home. But he appeared to fix the bulk of the blame on the data analyst who took the electronic data files home to work on, without proper authorization and lost them when his laptop computer and an external hard drive were stolen.

***Maybe it's just me but, don't you feel that we have had an awful lot of "black ops" being done in this country since this administration has come along? Just like Friday, when that Republican told his staff to call the police because he thought he heard gunshots coming from the Rayburn garage. I THINK MAYBE THE DEMOCRATS' HAD BETTER CHECK THEIR OFFICES FOR BUGS, DON'T YOU? It's not like the Republicans haven't pulled something like this once before!!!!!

Federal authorities later announced a $50,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the stolen equipment.

Lawmakers charged that the problem goes far beyond the transgression of one employee, lambasting Nicholson and other top VA officials for an information security system that has been repeatedly identified as vulnerable in recent years.

***This kinda' adds to the "black ops" theory of mine, huh? "Let's leave the security in bad shape so theat we can have an excuse!" And the Republicans say that they are so great on national security! Huh! They can't even protect themselves and we all know that Washington, D.C. looks like a police state. I've said it many time before and this proves it. "They're national security is only a front!" It "appears" like they are doing something!

"We can't pin this on one individual," Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) told Nicholson. "This is a systemic breakdown. The system is so poorly designed that one employee can compromise the whole thing."

***There you go. It's not like they haven't been told about this!

VA officials told the communities that computer equipment appeared to have been a main target of whoever committed the burglary but that there was no evidence of a focused effort to steal data on veterans. A number of CD's containing sensitive VA data were left in the house after the burglary, which fit a pattern seen by police in other recent cases in the area, the VA inspector general testified.

Investigators "think this was a routine breaking and entering and not a targeted burglary," Nicholson said. "It was a random burglary."

"We are the best at what we do, aren't we......"

"Nicholson testified that "I am the person responsible for this situation." If the May 3 theft at the data analyst Montgomery County home was not bad enough, "I was not notified about this event until May 16," Nicholson said in opening remarks.

***Maybe that was ordered by someone higher up.

"As a 34-year veterans myself, I am mad as hell," he said. "I am outraged by all of this. I am outraged that the employee would do this so recklessly and I am outraged that I wasn't notified about this sooner."

***A paper pushin' 34-year veterans.

Nicholson, a 1961 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, served in Vietnam and spent 22 years in the Army Reserve, retiring as a colonel. He was a chairman of the Republican National Committee and ambassador to the Vatican becoming secretary of veterans affairs Feb. 1, 2005, as President Bush began his second therm.

***Wasn't he asked to be relpaced by the Vatican? What's the story behind that?

He said the stolen records contain the names and birth dates of 26.5 million veterans "and some spouses." The data also includes the Social Security numbers of 19.6 million of the veterans, he said. In addition, there were "some numerical disability ratings and diagnostic codes that identify their disability." Not included, he said, were any VA electronic health records or "explicit financial information."

***Oh, now we're hearing spouses?

The affected veterans were those who have been discharged sine 1975, plus veterans receiving VA disability compensation, Nicholson said. He said fewer than 100 spouses were included in a stolen electronic file listing people who had been affected by mustard gas.

Rep. Steven Buyer (R-IN), chairman of the House Veteran's Affairs Committee, described the incident as "a meltdown in VA's information management" and a "wake-up call" to correct department-wide problems. He asked if Nicholson would "consider offeringa reward, say a million dollars, that would lead to arrest or recovery of this loss." Buyer said this amount "is nothing compared with what we are about to expend" to deal with the stolen data.

The government later announced its $50,000 reward, which is being offered through the Montgomery County Crime Stoppers organization. County police, who are investigating the burglary in the Aspen Hill community with assistance from the FBI and the Veterans Affairs Department, want anyone with information on the crime to call the crime solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS.

In the joint hearing on the Senate side, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WASH) pointed out that there are currently about 25 million living veterans in the United States, of whom 6 million are enrolled in the VA. She asked about the discrepancy of 1.5 million names in the stolen records.

"Some of the veterans on this list would be decreased but not expunged from the rolls," Nicholson said. But he was at a loss to explain how the VA would identify the dead and contact their relatives to alert them to the possibility that the identities of deceased victims could be used for infamous purposes. "We have to look at that," he said.

Nicholson said the VA is sending letters to all of the 19.6 million people whose Social Security numbers were stolen, urging them to "be vigilant" for signs of identity theft and advising them how to protect themselves. He said a special VA call center has been set up and has received more than 105,000 calls through yesterday. The number is 1-800-333-4636.

He vowed to take decisive "corrective action" after the VA inspector general finishes an investigation and to "bring about a ringing change in the way we do business." Meanwhile, he said, the employe whose home was burglarized has been placed on administrative leave.

"I'm so damn mad at the loss of our veterans' data and the fact that one person could put all of us at risk," he said. "One person in violation of VA policies."

Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-MAINE), who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told Nicholson: "You seem to be saying it was just one employee" who breached security. "But in fact it was not just one employee. You have a high-risk vulnerable system that has been identified time and again as vulnerable." She pointed to a stack of reports in which she said inspectors had issued the same warnings "over and over again" for the past five years.

"You were on notice," Collins said. "Were you aware of these repeated audits and reports?"

"Yes, I was," Nicholson replied. He said an effort was "just underway" to centralize information systems that have become "very loose and undisciplined."

The committee was told tht although VA policies permit "telework" from home, guidelines say the person taking information away from a VA office must have permission from a superior and the information must be encrypted. Neither guideline was followed in this case, the committee was told.

Michael McLendon, a deputy VA assistant secretary for policy, testified that the employee informed him of the May 3 burglary shortly after discovering it and notifying Montgomery County police.

"He was very distraught," McLendon said. He said the employee, a "PhD analyst," told him that a back window had been broken and the house ransacked. While the burglars passed up such valuables such as silver, they took a personal laptop and an external hard drive that had veterans' data on it, he said the employee told him.

VA officials were hard pressed to explain why it then took so long to launch an investigation and make the theft known to veterans.

George. J. Opfer, the VA inspector general, said one of his information-security officers heard about the burglary by happenstance May 10 and submitted a written report the following day.

"On May 12, 2006, a criminal investigation was initiated and efforts commenced to identify and interview the employee" who was questioned May 15, Opfer said in a written testimony. Nicholson was informed the next day.

Opfer said his office, the FBI and the Montgomery County Police Department are conducting a joint investigation aimed at catching whoever committed the burglary and recovering the stolen data.

"To date, there has been no indication that this data has been further compromised," he said.

The employee told investigators that he routinely took data home to work on and had been doing so since 2003, Opfer said.

Source: Washington Post
By: William Branigin
May 25, 2006


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